The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Archive of Visual Arts

The Paintings of Iona Rozeal Brown

Iona Rozeal Brown divine selektah...big up, 2006

October 26, 2006 – January 7, 2007

This selection of Iona Rozeal Brown’s work presents male figures appropriated from traditional Japanese woodblock prints and radically transformed through an overlay of hip hop style. Brown’s ongoing project, collectively called “a3,” or “afro-asiatic allegory,” was born of the artist’s encounter with the ganguro phenomenon: Japanese teens who since the 1990s have adopted extreme fake tans – hence the moniker ganguro, which translates literally as “black face” – along with cornrows, afros, and the high-bling sartorial markers of American hip hop iconography.

Brown is concerned with the stylistic appropriation of African-American cultural forms and with the global construction of identity through consumerism. Formally, her distinctive work combines textures, forms and colors in flat, patterned paintings with collage on paper in order to suggest cultural overlay. Based on print sources from Japan’s Edo period (1600-1868), the work contemporizes the dramatic Ukiyo-e tradition – popular genre pictures of the “floating world,” a hedonistic, after-hours milieu inhabited by geishas, Kabuki actors, and samurai – to represent unexpected hybridities born of cultural sampling and material excess.

The work is infused by the artist’s ambivalence about the complications of hip hop’s global spread as it is shorn from its original social, political and economic contexts in America and reduced to style. Her encounter with Japan’s ganguro was particularly challenging. Brown remembers: “I felt stung. They were imitating me – a black person – in a way that was neither flattering nor historically sensitive.” The body of work that emerged from this experience, Brown says, “speaks to how we assume new identities through clothes, hair, and makeup. To the ganguro, it’s all just drag.”

By invoking the extreme mediation of experience and meaning, Brown’s work provocatively calls into question the power of image, as well as the appeal of surface over the substance of cultural forms. What are we to make of the hip hop idols represented here, of these postured and preening masculinities, in light of the samurai on whom they are modeled? The connections are suggestive, far reaching, and wry. Ultimately, Brown’s work asks viewers to consider apprehension, ownership, authenticity, and identity amidst the connectivity and distortions of globalization.

Born in 1966, Iona Rozeal Brown earned a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and an MFA from Yale University in 2002, and has had solo exhibitions in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C. Her work was featured in Black Belt at the Studio Museum in Harlem, in New Visions: Emerging Trends in African American Art at the Smithsonian, and in a3 . . . black on both sides at Spelman College in Atlanta. An African-American artist and DJ who has lived in Tokyo and Yokohama, Brown currently lives and works in Washington, D.C

UAMA thanks the private individuals whose generous loans made this exhibition possible; Caren Golden, of Caren Golden Fine Art, in New York; and Annie Gowlak, of G Fine Art, in Washington, D.C.

Iona Rozeal Brown is represented by G Fine Art, Washington, DC

Also see the related exhibition, The Faithful Samurai